NC Senate approves broadband bill that seeks to curb muni wifi

A bill that would limit the creation of municipal wifi networks in North Carolina edged closer to final passage Tuesday. The Senate voted in favor of House Bill 129 – Level Playing Field/Local Government Competition with some exemptions for existing municipal wi-fi networks statewide. The measure now goes back to the House for final approval.

Cities with existing and solvent networks like Wilson and Salisbury have been working with local lawmakers for months on language that would exempt their networks from curbs on their activity. Some of these networks exist in areas with degraded private networks or no other means of access. The Greenlight network in Wilson, for example, currently serves 5,700 customers and has been online since 2008. Supporters of the bill, largely private telecom and cable companies claim that these networks create unfair competition. CivSource reported on the fight over these exemptions when the bill first came before the legislature.

Under the terms of the current bill, cities that want to build their own broadband networks will need to take the plan to a public vote to determine financing and will have to pay the same taxes and fees as private companies. The municipal networks will also be forbidden from advertising their service offerings on public television stations.

The bill passed the Senate 37-9 and includes exemptions for five cities in North Carolina.

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